Manatee clergy hail repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'

MANATEE -- An answer to their prayers. A landmark in the fight for equal rights. A change of spirit . . . and a change of reality.

Local clergy close to the struggle for equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender persons hailed President Barack Obama’s signing of a law repealing don’t ask, don’t tell.

The new law for the first time allows gay men and women to serve openly in the military.

Rev. Dee Graham, campus chaplain at USF Sarasota-Manatee, New College of Florida and Ringling College of Art and Design, said Wednesday gay men and women who are now serving already have wide acceptance among other service members.

The law will allow them to openly serve and support the country rather than “having witch hunts and prosecuting people for who they are,” Graham said.

She compared the landmark law to racial integration of the armed forces, which proved that people of all ethnic backgrounds could serve together, and that service members could judge one another on character, rather than skin color.

The Rev. Charles Tigard, senior pastor of Church of the Trinity Metropolitan Community Church, 7225 N. Lockwood Ridge Road, southern Manatee County, said his congregation gave Obama’s impending signature on the new law a standing ovation last Sunday.

“It was an answer to a prayer,” Tigard said.

“A lot of gay activists around the country were watching this. We weren’t sure it would pass this session of Congress,” he said.

Trinity MCC has historically served gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight worshippers.

“Many members of our congregation served in the armed forces,” Tigard said.

Rev. Nancy Wilson, the founder of the local Trinity MCC congregation, now serves as moderator of Community Metropolitan Churches worldwide.

She will be back in the pulpit at the Manatee congregation Sunday, speaking on being a Christian in a religiously diverse world.

“We will talk about don’t ask, don’t tell too,” she said.

“We’re just absolutely thrilled. It’s a wonderful day. We wished we could have been there in person,” she said of the bill signing.

She reflected on those service members who lost their commissions or were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation.

“Those are people whose hearts were broken; these were good, wonderful soldiers who had a lot to offer their country. What a shame they were unable to serve,” Wilson said.

“We think this signals wonderful things for equal rights in America,” she said.